American ACU Camouflage

The US Army's Combat Uniform (ACU) featuring Universal Camouflage Pattern

Camouflage became an essential part of modern military tactics after the increase in accuracy and rate of fire of weapons during the 19th century. Despite camouflage's demonstrated value, until the 20th century, armies tended to use bright colours and bold, impressive designs. These were intended to daunt the enemy, foster unit cohesion and allow easier identification of units in the fog of war.

The US Army's Combat Uniform (ACU) is the current combat uniform worn by the United States Army. This new digital camo replaced the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). It features a number of design changes, as well as a different camouflage pattern from its predecessor. The main intent of camouflage is to disrupt a soldier's perceived outline as seen by the human eye by merging in with the surroundings, making them a harder target to spot or hit.

ACU camouflage
ACU camouflage

The U.S. Army universal camouflage trials occurred from 2002 to 2004 with the goal of creating a single pattern that would provide adequate concealment in all environments. Four different patterns in a total of 13 variations were tested during the evaluation: three woodland patterns, three desert, three urban, three desert/urban, and one multi-environment pattern.

The Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) found on the Army Combat Uniform emerged from testing of the four patterns.

The ACU uses a new military camouflage pattern called the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which blends green, tan, and gray to work effectively in desert, and urban environments. Similar to the United States Marine Corps MARPAT and Canadian CADPAT camouflage schemes that preceded it, the pattern design is based on research into Dual Texture (Dual-Tex) Camouflage conducted in the 1970s. It also features numerous design improvements based on input from serving US soldiers

The pattern was chosen after several laboratory and field tests that occurred from 2003-2004]Its digital pattern is a modification of the United States Marine Corps' MARPAT camouflage.

Six patterns were originally developed in early 2002 and reviewed for effectiveness, with three of the six designs being rejected due to limited effectiveness. The final three patterns were evaluated at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Centre, and four colour schemes were created for each pattern. The woodland patterns consisted of tan, green, brown and black; the desert patterns tan, dark tan, khaki and brown; the urban patterns tan, light gray, medium gray and black, and the desert/urban patterns contained tan, dark tan, light gray and brown. A common ground shade, tan, was selected for all patterns to allow individual equipment to be interchangeable if more than one colour scheme were adopted. The patterns were All Over Brush, Shadow Line

Close-up of pattern
Close-up of pattern
      Example as worn
Example as worn

The colour scheme of the Army Combat Uniform is composed of a gray, tan and sage green digital pattern. Black was omitted from the uniform because it is not commonly found in nature.] Pure black, when viewed through night vision goggles, appears excessively dark and creates an undesirable high-contrast image. In combat, the gray would tend to match the environment after use; for example, dust could cover up the gray. Gray is also a neutral colour and thus does not tend to catch the eye as more saturated colours would.

The Universal Camouflage Pattern was selected by the Centre's Individual Protection Directorate and the Supporting Science and Technology Directorate. Three patterns were developed, called All Over Brush, Track, and Shadow/Line. For each pattern, there were four colour combinations, which corresponded to a specific type of terrain; however, all four patterns used tan as their base colour. The three remaining colours were green, brown, and black for the Woodland pattern, dark tan, khaki, and brown for the Desert pattern, light gray, medium gray, and black for the Urban pattern, and dark tan, light Gray, and brown for the Desert/Urban pattern

Following testing, the Shadow Line pattern was eliminated entirely, along with the urban and desert/urban patterns of All Over Brush. All four of the Track patterns were accepted along with All Over Brush's woodland and desert patterns.

The patterns were then modified and tested alongside a newly introduced "Contractor-Developed Mod" pattern, Multicam. Near Infrared testing determined that black, medium gray, and medium tan were the only colours that gave acceptable performance

The desert Brush design received the best overall mean daytime visual rating. Contractor developed pattern received highest rating in woodland environments, but low ratings in desert and urban environments. Urban Track was generally the 3rd or 4th worst performer at each site. Infrared testing showed negligible differences in the performance of the four patterns. Natick rated the patterns from best to worst as: Desert Brush, Woodland Track Mod, Contractor-Developed Mod, and Urban Trac

US Soldiers have reported that while the pattern is effective in an urban or desert environment, it is less effective in others As the Army is currently involved in the Iraq war; the uniform may have been biased towards the current operating environment Only time and deployments to more greener environments will tell if Universal Camouflage Pattern remains the camouflage of choice for the US Army

Full ACU outfit
Full ACU outfit
      Full ACU outfit
Full ACU outfit

US Soldiers have reported that the nylon cotton fabric used in the build of The ACU does not breathe as well as the cotton Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCUs) and results in a hotter uniform in high temperature climates.

The uniform features hook and loop fasteners on the pockets. Although some concern has been expressed that the noise associated with opening velcro fasteners would give away a soldier's position in the field, although this concern has been proven to be minor issue with correct noise discipline

The cost to each soldier is $76 per uniform, compared to $58 for a BDU, but clothing allowances in soldiers' pay have been adjusted to compensate for the more expensive uniform. All insignia is at an extra cost, as are name tapes and branch tapes. Soldiers who purchase uniforms from non-ACU approved websites or surplus stores generally have to purchase IR squares because these uniforms may not include this must have accessery

An under Armour shirt similar to BCB's UBACS has been offered up as a way of cooling down the US troops on deployment, but as yet Raider is not aware of any US Units actually being issued with this piece of kit

The Army Combat Shirt, or ACS is a flame-resistant shirt developed for the United States Army as an addition to the Uniform. The ACS is a stand-alone shirt designed specifically for use with Interceptor Body Armour in warm and hot weather. It is intended to greatly increase user comfort through the use of lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable fabrics.

The torso of the shirt is foliage green with the Army Strong logo cantered on the chest; the arms are in the Universal Camouflage Pattern similar to the Army Combat Uniform, with integrated anti-abrasion elbow pads. No-seam shoulders minimize rubbing or chafing against armour. Other features include a double pen pocket on the lower arm, zippered storage pockets on the upper arm, concealable infrared identification tabs, and a place to attach name, rank, and flag on the upper arm.

The ACS is constructed of three flame-resistant performance fabrics proprietary to Massif Mountain Gear Company. The shirt's torso is constructed of two highly breathable flame-resistant fabrics with advanced moisture management capabilities. Both fabrics wick moisture away from the skin and dry rapidly, preventing the fabrics from sticking to the user's skin and greatly increasing comfort under body armor. The sleeves and side panels of the shirt are constructed of a lightweight, but durable and abrasion-resistant fabric designed to provide extra protection for areas not protected by body armor. All three fabrics feature 4-way stretch for enhanced performance and user comfort.

This article appeared in the June 2008 issue of Raider magazine, and is reproduced here with permission. Words and Pictures John McKenzie

You can buy ACU jackets and ACU trousers directly from this site.